Results-only innovation is an exploration of what is viable and pragmatic. This can help produce additional value for businesses and end users.

Every business wants to be innovative, but not all companies understand what innovation is—and isn’t. Large companies with well-funded research and development programs often point to those as evidence of their innovation capability. In reality, their teams are usually engaged in work that’s more akin to invention than innovation.

There’s a difference between invention and innovation. The invention process involves creating something entirely new, whereas innovation is the process of recombining, repositioning, or reimagining the fundamental elements of an existing concept to produce new value—a remix. The size of the team engaged in this process and the tools and techniques they use are irrelevant. What matters is creating demonstrable, quantifiable value rather than focusing on upfront research and development or generalized “experimentation.” The focus should be on scalable, industrialized services.

Firms that consistently engage in this kind of pragmatic innovation, or “results-only innovation,” can disrupt industries and change consumer behavior. Others can expand product lines or gain operational efficiencies. Not every attempt is successful, but the chances of success are inherently better when firms employ results-only innovation.

The Art of the Pragmatic

While innovation is often viewed as an exploration of what’s possible, results-only innovation is an exploration of what is viable and pragmatic. It requires practitioners to continually ask why things are the way they are. For instance, why choose a particular design? Why prioritize user centricity? Why focus on a certain development?

Rather than look for ways to replace a product or process, practitioners determine what value that product or process delivers to end users and to the business. Then, they seek ways to amplify it.

One modest alteration to the design and development process can introduce a broader understanding of potential value. Firms with innovative corporate cultures are always improving. They understand that creating new value doesn’t necessarily mean overhauling what already exists. Rather, they invest in results-only innovation by pinpointing what needs to change.

Many firms focus on the minimum viable product or first release product to the detriment of moving toward a scalable solution. Too often, considerations regarding the creation or augmentation of the business built around the product are given short shrift. For some, this might be the tech infrastructure (e.g., DevSecOps or CloudOps), but in many cases, it’s a series of added factors (e.g., the tech infrastructure plus team capabilities, go-to-market initiatives, organizational change management, and executive buy-in).

How Data Makes a Difference

The best way to pursue pragmatic innovation is to introduce a new, equally weighted facet: data. When deciding whether to pursue innovation, practitioners might ask a multitude of questions related to this important business asset. For example, what data becomes available through a modification? How can it be mined? Can it inform other product or business decisions? Can it be sold? Should it be sold? Could it power artificial intelligence models or advanced analytics?

Smart firms will also ask whether the data generated through the process of innovation can contribute to further innovation in the future. Innovative companies are far more likely than competitors to invest in data-intensive technologies and projects, according to a recent Harvard Business Review report.

Innovation ROI is often viewed as something separate from the pursuit itself. However, practitioners of results-only innovation take the opposite viewpoint. By weighing the prospective business value, user value, and data value that could be derived from their work, teams gain a clear understanding of success and can focus their efforts and investments accordingly.

Investing in Results-Only Innovation

The Harvard Business Review report revealed that 42% of organizations planned to increase their innovation budgets in 2021. Those that adopt the principles of results-only innovation will likely see significant returns in terms of greater efficiency, more revenue, or increased customer satisfaction, among others. Companies that want to be among them should keep these three tips in mind:

1. Don’t be afraid to challenge central expectations

A recent McKinsey & Co. survey found that many global executives are halting innovation to focus on other priorities in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, doubling down on what has worked in the past is not a path to stability or growth. In fact, it can make organizations more vulnerable as time goes on. Firms should continually question their expectations so they can adjust them when necessary—and before it’s too late. Impact requires commitment even when things don’t go according to plan.

2. Strive to reject orthodoxy that exists for its own sake

Just as firms should question their expectations, they should also feel comfortable challenging the assumptions they’ve relied on to get where they are. Even if those assumptions were correct in the past, they might not be in the future. Companies tend to have good reasons for doing things a certain way, but that shouldn’t stop them from looking for better alternatives. A culture of innovation and creativity is also one of perpetual discontent with the status quo. Innovators should welcome debate, as the ideas pursued should hold up to the scrutiny of multiple viewpoints and the rigor of multiple challenges. Any decisions made should be supported by facts, evidence, and data.

3. Understand the need that underlies a process or workflow

Don’t approach reimagining as merely an exercise in iterative improvement. Ask why a process exists in the first place, and strive to quantify the business, data, or user value that it delivers. This is especially useful when designing customer experiences. About 58% of innovation leaders believe that customers will pay a premium for better experiences, according to the same Harvard Business Review report. By starting the innovation process with a clear understanding of customers’ needs and desires, leaders can augment the value they deliver and design new and exciting experiences that customers are ready to purchase.

Although firms should always aim to create new value, the innovation process won’t always result in success. But a failed experiment is not a failure of the entire effort. It represents a tested hypothesis — and those don’t always come back with the expected results. Companies should aim for measurable results with quantifiable value. If they fall short, then they strengthened the workflows and thought processes necessary for future success.

About the Author

Ross A. McIntyre is the chief strategy officer at Frogslayer, a custom software development and digital innovation firm. Clients partner with Frogslayer to rapidly build, launch, and scale forward-leaping, industry-shattering software products and digital platforms that create new revenue streams and sources of competitive advantage.

Featured image via Unsplash.